Doctors call to take politics out of the NHS in Scotland


The doctors’ trade union, the BMA, says it is time to demonstrate that NHS staff in Scotland are valued beyond rounds of applause, by putting in place a series of changes to improve working lives, recruitment to the profession and outcomes for patients.


In a manifesto published ahead of the Scottish election, the organisation calls for political parties to put aside their differences and unite to “depoliticise the debate around the NHS”, and take forward “a national conversation on the future of the NHS, what it should provide and how it should be funded”.


BMA Scotland Chair, Dr Lewis Morrison, says the profession is exhausted and feels undervalued – and “warm words” from candidates are not enough:


“We have now reached the time to prove to doctors and all other NHS workers that those weren’t just hollow gestures or empty words. Because, right now, doctors’ view of those who run our health service are at a very low ebb.”


The BMA manifesto says that the national conversation needs to focus on understanding that NHS priorities – and measures of success – need to be centred on health not politics. The document states in its introduction:


‘For too long the measurement of success has been based on the NHS’s ability to meet, at times, arbitrary, politically motivated and abused, national targets. If covid-19 has shown us anything, it is that good patient outcomes, clinical discretion and the empowerment and wellbeing of the staff is what leads to success and positive results.


‘During the covid-19 pandemic much of what has been put in place to allow for more flexible, multi-disciplinary working needs to be considered and built upon; much of the provisions put in place to help staff to cope and deal with the pressures of work in the NHS at such a time need to remain for the long term. covid-19 has highlighted that there has been erosion of some basic principles of good practice and responsible management over recent years.’


The manifesto makes more than 20 recommendations and ‘asks’ that cover IT infrastructure and the current and future workforce, including the need for a workforce plan that addresses the ‘desperate need for more GPs’ and supports staff well-being.


It also includes a call for a ‘significant and early pay award’; ending of uncertainty about pension taxes; a new mental health strategy in the light of the covid-19 pandemic; for the Sturrock report recommendations on bullying to be taken forward; and the embedding of consideration of health impacts in all government policies.


The manifesto is published against a background of a survey of over 900 doctors last November which showed nearly two thirds of respondents did not feel politicians valued doctors in Scotland; 46% felt the Scottish government wasn’t committed to involving the medical profession in decisions about the future of the NHS; and 79% saying they didn’t have a clear understanding of the long-term visions for the future of the NHS.


Lewis Morrison says, as Scotland emerges from the pandemic, there is a ‘now or never’ chance to make a change and wipe the slate clean:


“We don’t have all the answers, but we do have a clear premise on which we hope all parties can approach the NHS in Scotland during the next parliament.


“If Scotland is truly to get to grips with making the NHS sustainable, then now is the time for a national conversation about its future: what it should provide and how it should be funded. We have to be honest about the challenges, realistic about our needs and wants, and consider how much, as a nation, we are prepared to invest in our health and care services.


“We genuinely need to look after healthcare staff better, with a focus on patient outcomes instead of an obsession with blanket and arbitrary targets. We need to ensure that staff work in environments in which they feel safe and secure – no one should go to work feeling anxious, worried, or to be bullied.”


Dr Morrison adds: “Over the last year, I have never been prouder to be a doctor and part of the team that is NHS Scotland. We have pulled together, putting patients at the heart of all we do – not the demands of the system we work in.


“Looking forward, it is vital that we don’t lose that momentum, and keep patient and staff wellbeing at the centre of all decisions that we make. We owe it to the people of Scotland to make sure our health service is the best it can be – but importantly we also owe it to the many thousands who work in it.”


By John Magill


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